HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS

Family Of Utah Transgender Athlete Speaks Out Ahead Of Special Legislative Session: ‘It’s Part Of Who He Is’

Mar 24, 2022, 7:16 PM

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Photo: Matt Rascon, KSL TV

SALT LAKE CITY – It is impossible to think of their son without conjuring up images of him playing sports.

It isn’t just something he likes to do. It’s part of who he is.

“Sports is part of his identity,” said the mother of one of Utah’s four transgender athletes competing in high school sports sanctioned by the Utah High School Activities Association. “(His dad) has this great picture of (him) at the Summer market in Park City when he was about 4-years-old. He’s climbing this tower, and it was maybe 30-feet high. …This has been who he is – always. When we took him skiing at 18-months old, he threw a tantrum when we handed him off to go home. Across the board, skiing, lacrosse, cross country, it’s just a way he likes to challenge himself, and he’s competitive, and he’s just a natural athlete. Anything he does, he does it well.”

The 15-year-old and his parents agreed to discuss his athletic experiences in light of the special session being held Friday, March 25, to attempt to override Gov. Spencer Cox’s veto of HB11, which bans transgender girls from public school athletic teams and creates a special commission that would set physical standards and determine eligibility for all other transgender athletes.

KSL Sports agreed not to use their names as the teen hopes to retain some privacy, even as he feels compelled to share his real-life experiences with those deciding whether or not to override the governor’s veto.

An Athlete’s Personal Experience

“It feels like these people in power, for no real reason, are just trying to stop trans people from playing sports,” the teen said. “And in other (states), getting access to medical care.”

He said the process he and his mother went through last fall so he could run track at his high school this spring seemed to involve a lot of people that really had no connection with whether or not he should be allowed to compete and under what circumstances.

“When I saw the principal’s name on the email chain, I thought, ‘Why are they involved?’ he said.

His mother added, “In just the brief emails and information gathering for the UHSAA, it was just,” she pauses, “I’m a private person, and somehow I have to justify my child’s existence. That was hard. Why is this anyone else’s business?”

All of them are grateful for the UHSAA’s process, enacted in 2015, that allows transgender students to participate if they can provide evidence of medical care that shows a consistent commitment to transitioning, which includes taking hormones. The association rules don’t allow students to change gender once a determination is made to let them participate as transgender athletes. For transgender girls, they must be on hormone treatments for at least a year before competing, while boys do not have to be on hormone treatment. All transgender students, however, have to provide a complete list of all medications, prescribed and over the counter, that they’re taking in order to be eligible.

“I don’t know that the word invasive came to mind, but I did think, this is a lot of stuff I’ve got to share,” his mom said. “Across the board, it was totally different. …It seemed like a lot to go through to participate.”

But both of his parents were willing to do what was necessary because they know how much sports mean to their son.

The 15-year-old aspiring ski racer got a taste of what his life would be like without sports.

“When I got injured last year, going 10 months without skiing at all, it was really, really hard,” said the teen. “It wasn’t just that I couldn’t ski. I couldn’t be active at all. It was pretty miserable for me.”

He Loved Sports & He Wanted To Be A Boy

From the time their son was small there are two things his parents have known – he loved sports and he wanted to be a boy.

“I remember him saying, ‘I want to be a boy’ at 2 or 3,” his father said. “It’s been his whole life. As early as (he) could articulate that he didn’t like pink, it was part of the discussion.”

The teen said he always felt more comfortable wearing his brothers’ hand-me-downs.

“Whenever some cashier would call me ‘he’ and my parents would correct them, I’d sort of be angry with my parents almost,” he said, laughing a little. “I was like, ‘No, don’t correct them!”

He said he learned that people could change their gender when he was about 9-years old.

“I wanted to do it almost as soon as I knew it was a thing you could do,” he said, adding that he’s been taking hormones since September of 2021. “Since I’ve been doing it, I feel more comfortable. I feel like I’m fitting in with my friends, becoming more comfortable with my voice.”

His parents said the realization that their son was transgender didn’t make navigating school, sports and other aspects of society any less complicated – emotionally or practically.

“At first, you’re trying to figure out what that means,” said his father. “Is this just a phase? …And you want, more than anything, for your child to be happy. I think you’re maybe a little bit scared. It feels like a challenging road. But I also say, I feel like the attitudes around gender and transgender, from my perspective, have changed so much in the last 12 years that we’ve been on this journey. …I want (my son) to be who he wants to be. But I wouldn’t say I haven’t felt pangs of sadness along the way.”

For the teen, the ‘pangs of sadness’ have come for different reasons.

“I’d say it was more like, ‘Why was I born this way? Why am I different than everyone else?’” he said. “I think that’s something I still struggle with.”

Sports, the teen said, has always been a reprieve from everything, including gender identity.

“Going through transitioning is such a hard thing to do,” he said. “Sports is kind of like a break from that. (While playing) you don’t have to think about it…It helps to be passionate about something else.”

His father said there has really never been a comfortable place for his child. He recalls a game when his son was playing basketball in sixth grade at a private school in Salt Lake County.

“He was very good at stealing the ball at one end of the court, running past all the defenders, and then realizing he’d passed the 3-point line, going back and missing it,” he laughed as he recalled the memory. “He was kind of running all over the place against this team, and a mom yelled, “Go play with the boys!” And I thought this is why parents get in fistfights at their children’s games.”

His father said a couple of years later, he watched his son playing on a girls lacrosse team.

“My view of it was that he felt uncomfortable playing with the girls,” he said. “I could see it in (his face) – I don’t belong here. Here you have a kid who was really a very good player, but just didn’t feel like he fit in.”

The teen said it was during a cross country meet in sixth grade that he realized he’d never feel comfortable competing as a girl.

“In cross country, the boys and girls run together, and then at the end we get in two separate lines – one for girls and one for boys,” he said. “Some parent yelled at me because I went in the girls’ line. I was almost crying…I feel like that really solidified it for me. I don’t want to play with the girls.”

The teen and his parents don’t want to be political activists. They’re hurt and angry that the legislature is going to enact laws that will make an already complicated process even more difficult.

Potential Consequences Of The Transgender Athlete Ban

Additionally, there could be unintended consequences. One thing the new law does is ban “a student of the male sex” from competing with teams “designated for students of the female sex.” In high school, drill team is designated as a girls sport, but boys do participate. This change would mean boys could not compete with public school drill teams.

Also, while transgender students in public schools will have to gain eligibility from a commission, transgender students in one of the 15 private schools will remain under the jurisdiction of the UHSAA. That could also create inequities that can’t be predicted.

The boy’s mother acknowledges that the issues are different at each level of play – and really with each situation, sport and gender.

“This is not a place for the legislature,” she said. “This should be evaluated on a case by case basis. …It feels like this legislation is being driven by misconceptions, misunderstandings and fear.”

She adds, “They’re legislating a problem before it happens. They’re legislating for the worst-case scenario.”

Even more unsettling is how much time and energy is being devoted to an issue that many don’t understand.

“How much of this is driven from a fear of the unknown,” she said. “How does this make our society a better society? It doesn’t. It’s discrimination.”

This kind of law, and the debate surrounding it, she said, “It’s validating these stereotypes and misinformation. It’s divisive.”

While legislators debate why banning transgender girls from high school sports is worth the half a million dollars they plan to set aside to defend the law in legal challenges, the boy said he’s just looking forward to running track with his friends.

“I’m excited to be able to participate,” he said. “I think I’d be really angry (if the law’s passage meant he couldn’t participate), not just because I’ve gone through all that. But I just want to be able to participate in sports.”

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Family Of Utah Transgender Athlete Speaks Out Ahead Of Special Legislative Session: ‘It’s Part Of Who He Is’